I know the title can be misleading. The Champaign Room is a blog that offers opinion, recaps, and previews. Many sites feature writers and employees that are, in their own words, not fans, but reporters. I simply can not do that.
For far too long, I have been a fan first and a writer second. This team, like many other superficial things in life, means far too much to me. At 33, I have invested countless years in to a team that offers little more in life than excitement and something to root for. There is a part of me that is afraid the good years are far gone. It feels like ages since the 2004-05 team was mere heartbeats away from national glory. It feels like the annual trips to the NCAA Tournament as a top-eight seed are afterthoughts in the college basketball arena.
Long gone are the days where the State Farm Center was one of the toughest places to play. Long gone are the days that featured one of the toughest matchups for any team in college basketball. Long gone are the days where fans packed arenas and cheered loudly for that team in orange and blue. Fans have been replaced by those who believe it asinine to cheer for your team, who believe standing to cheer should be reserved only for the students, who have turned the State Farm Center into a perpetual wake.
This piece for game previews is typically titled “What we want to see”, yet I have altered that sentiment. This is what “I” want to see. No offense intended to any current player, coach, or support staff, but when I look at this team and this season, I am starkly terrified that a ten-win season is not in the cards. This is a simple thought exercise for my benefit that will quell my fears for what could potentially be the worst season since the 1970s.
FREE TEVIAN JONES
As of this writing, there has been no announcement about the availability of Tevian Jones. Jones, who has been suspended the last six games, has been shooting over 43% in limited action. Jones could provide a spark for the Illini at a time when it may be needed most.
This team has seen far too many droughts and missed shots to have a talent like Jones sitting on the bench for as long as he has. Unless he committed a major felony, there is no reason why he should still be sitting on the bench. Hopefully, that streak comes to an end this weekend.
BETTER PLAY FROM AYO
Coming to Champaign, Ayo Dosunmu was one of the highest rated recruits to commit in years. In his first two games for Illinois, he showed why: 21.5 points per game while shooting 5 for 7 from behind the three point line caused Illinois fans to salivate.
Now, Ayo is in a bit of a slump, something he rarely experienced in his time playing in Chicago. Mired in a 12-for-46 slump over his past five games, Ayo needs to find a way to get back to the start.
This is not a knock on Ayo. I am a massive believer in Ayo. I also understand the difference there is in dominating in high school and making the transition to the Big Ten. It is a different animal, and I believe he would say the same thing. He will soon be one of the best in the Big Ten, but right now, he has to find a way to work through the growing pains he is going through right now.
GET THE JOB DONE AND PLAY 40 MINUTES
Illinois knows coming into this game that it should win. FAU has lost in recent weeks to Bethune-Cookman and Arkansas State. Even ESPN’s matchup predictor has Illinois as a 90% favorite. Illinois has to win this game and to do it they will need to play a full 40 minutes.
Head Coach Brad Underwood must abandon his questionable lineups, he must play those who need to see the court, and he must push this team to get the job done against a lesser team while avoiding the pitfalls that have cost this team far too many times this season. At this point, with eight losses on the season, there is no longer a margin for error. The game is win now. If they don’t, the season will be over much sooner than anyone could have expected.
I think, even with the issues this team is facing, this is a win. In fact, I think this is a big win and a game we can, hopefully, look back on as a renaissance on the season. Look for Ayo to score in double digits and Georgi B to score a season high as Illinois wins 78-66.
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